Surface heat flow and CO2 emissions within the Ohaaki hydrothermal field, Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand

Applied Geochemistry
By: , and 



Carbon dioxide emissions and heat flow have been determined from the Ohaaki hydrothermal field, Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ), New Zealand following 20 a of production (116 MWe). Soil CO2 degassing was quantified with 2663 CO2 flux measurements using the accumulation chamber method, and 2563 soil temperatures were measured and converted to equivalent heat flow (W m−2) using published soil temperature heat flow functions. Both CO2 flux and heat flow were analysed statistically and then modelled using 500 sequential Gaussian simulations. Forty subsoil CO2 gas samples were also analysed for stable C isotopes. Following 20 a of production, current CO2 emissions equated to 111 ± 6.7 T/d. Observed heat flow was 70 ± 6.4 MW, compared with a pre-production value of 122 MW. This 52 MW reduction in surface heat flow is due to production-induced drying up of all alkali–Cl outflows (61.5 MW) and steam-heated pools (8.6 MW) within the Ohaaki West thermal area (OHW). The drying up of all alkali–Cl outflows at Ohaaki means that the soil zone is now the major natural pathway of heat release from the high-temperature reservoir. On the other hand, a net gain in thermal ground heat flow of 18 MW (from 25 MW to 43.3 ± 5 MW) at OHW is associated with permeability increases resulting from surface unit fracturing by production-induced ground subsidence. The Ohaaki East (OHE) thermal area showed no change in distribution of shallow and deep soil temperature contours despite 20 a of production, with an observed heat flow of 26.7 ± 3 MW and a CO2 emission rate of 39 ± 3 T/d. The negligible change in the thermal status of the OHE thermal area is attributed to the low permeability of the reservoir beneath this area, which has limited production (mass extraction) and sheltered the area from the pressure decline within the main reservoir. Chemistry suggests that although alkali–Cl outflows once contributed significantly to the natural surface heat flow (∼50%) they contributed little (<1%) to pre-production CO2 emissions due to the loss of >99% of the original CO2 content due to depressurisation and boiling as the fluids ascended to the surface. Consequently, the soil has persisted as the major (99%) pathway of CO2 release to the atmosphere from the high temperature reservoir at Ohaaki. The CO2 flux and heat flow surveys indicate that despite 20 a of production the variability in location, spatial extent and magnitude of CO2 flux remains consistent with established geochemical and geophysical models of the Ohaaki Field. At both OHW and OHE carbon isotopic analyses of soil gas indicate a two-stage fractionation process for moderate-flux (>60 g m−2 d−1) sites; boiling during fluid ascent within the underlying reservoir and isotopic enrichment as CO2 diffuses through porous media of the soil zone. For high-flux sites (>300 g m−2 d−1), the δ13CO2 signature (−7.4 ± 0.3‰ OHW and −6.5 ± 0.6‰ OHE) is unaffected by near-surface (soil zone) fractionation processes and reflects the composition of the boiled magmatic CO2 source for each respective upflow. Flux thresholds of <30 g m−2 d−1 for purely diffusive gas transport, between 30 and 300 g m−2 d−1 for combined diffusive–advective transport, and ⩾300 g m−2 d−1 for purely advective gas transport at Ohaaki were assigned. δ13CO2 values and cumulative probability plots of CO2 flux data both identified a threshold of ∼15 g m−2 d−1 by which background (atmospheric and soil respired) CO2 may be differentiated from hydrothermal CO2.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Surface heat flow and CO2 emissions within the Ohaaki hydrothermal field, Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand
Series title Applied Geochemistry
DOI 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2011.10.006
Volume 27
Issue 1
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description 17 p.
First page 223
Last page 239
Country New Zealand
Other Geospatial Taupo Volcanic Zone
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional metadata about this publication, not found in other parts of the page is in this table